Posted by: gcarkner | April 21, 2014

Personal Mission Statement: the Power of Focus

Mission Statement: the Power of Focus

See also Grit: the power of passion and perseverance by Angela Duckworth


One Fall Retreat a couple years ago, GCU folks began with listening to a profound talk by Dr. Gordon Smith, a theologian on the concept of Christian Pilgrims. Perhaps you can listen to this CD at some point.  You could find it in the Regent Bookstore or Library. Gordon’s main point is that there is a vast difference between a tourist and a pilgrim. Tourists make demands and complain a lot about the service, expressing an attitude of entitlement. Pilgrims give thanks as they journey, humbly seeking out the gems of a situation. This attitude of gratefulness is rooted in a strong belief in, and appreciation for, the goodness of God in each situation. A pilgrim sees the importance of making it a faith statement, a weekly affirmation that: “God is Good and Gives Good Gifts”. Indeed God is the highest and purest form of goodness, the standard to measure all human claims to goodness (D. Stephen Long). Trinitarian mutuality is rich in self-giving. Our response is to give thanks as a way of life (Ann Voskamp).

It is this very good God who invites us into his Sabbath Rest (Hebrews 4:1-13). Sabbath is not a mere passive ceasing from work, but rather a cultivation of this attitude of thankfulness on the journey, a deliberate faith walk. The image takes us back to the desert wandering period in the story of the Children of Israel. God invites them (and us) into a communion of love, as fellow givers rather than consumers. Ruth Haley Barton offers a balanced approach to Sabbath in a chapter in her volume Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Transformation. Some might resonate with Mark Buchanan in his thoughtful book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. There are plenty of mentors to help us discover this Sabbath Rest.

Sabbath is the proper context for thinking about a ‘Personal Mission Statement’. It is important to take regular time out from our many activities, conversations and efforts in order to reflect on the big picture. It is key to a focus that can empower life and make it more meaningful. Below are some of our thoughts from the GCU retreat on a mission statement. It is core to what we want our life to mean and represent. Core to what we want to accomplish, essential to who we   are and what we fight for. One could say that it is the beam of wisdom that runs through a life—that on which other goals and objectives are hung. Few people (about 3%) take the time to dig deep, reflect upon and write such a statement. They assume this practice is for institutions, hospitals, governments or corporations.

A personal mission statement captures one’s narrative quest or “hypergood” to use a Charles Taylor term. It taps into our deep structure desire to make a substantial and important contribution. We think it is important for postgraduate students to take time to do this; otherwise life leads in a hundred directions without a focus, a formula for frustration and discouragement. We can get intensely busy and distracted by details and deadlines, and thereby lose the deeper meaning and the bigger picture of why we are in this program. We lose track of our life-focus trajectory.

A mission statement helps empower us by giving life focus and helping us discern between what is important versus trivial, narcissistic or urgent (Steven Covey). Rooted in past experience and our sense of giftedness, it is the opposite of fantasy or pipe dream. We are searching for the ‘real me’ before God (the thicker self) and investing there. It will affect the direction of our academic and life pursuits and the people with whom we associate and partner. It may well affect whom I marry. Experience becomes deeper and more satisfying as we press into the important, sacrificing some of the lesser goods for the greatest good. We are richly empowered by identifying what we really value most (our central, holy passion, our highest reach) in the categories of truth, beauty and goodness. One could see this as an upward spiral into that which grips us at the core of our being.

It is worth the heavy lifting that this kind of reflection takes to discover our own personal calling or trajectory. Hard is good in this case, a move towards our highest sanity. We will be able to cut through the current student malaise and cynicism (even nihilism) to say, “This is very, very good”. This is also the kind of vision that can carry you through decades of work and life because it is internally empowering. Sometimes we have to rethink this during mid-degree or mid-life as in the cases of Bill Gates, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore or Mother Teresa. You will become a happier person because you took the time to think and you know that here is where you can make a difference, an investment in the common good. Perhaps a read of Al Gore’s book The Future: six drivers of global change can help fire the imagination.

Once one gains focus and comes to grips with one’s unique combination of intelligences and giftedness, creativity and energies can be released. These energies can be more powerfully engaged far beyond the scope of what we presently imagine. There is so much more to you than you can actually now perceive. It will fuel capacity and broaden the circle of influence. We will have eyes to see a substantial opportunity and ears to hear the cries of a needy world.

A PhD or Masters is a lot of work, involving years of effort, and it reshapes our character and   opens opportunities for our future career. There are long hours, loneliness, and much thought and problem solving ahead. Focus and discipline is absolutely essential. In my PhD, I saw the image of a large drill bit grinding away day after day until the diamond (breakthrough insight) was revealed. The central vision of all this hard work should be working out of this central hypergood, building a strong relationship with it, fighting for it, and finding alliances to support it. Your central passion deploys your gifts towards human need and out of that comes your personal unstoppable contribution. This is the essence of being inner directed.

A strong relationship to God, a supportive community and a compassion for others are key dimensions of this dynamic process. You are affected much by what you love. I was reminded several times during the pursuit of a doctorate that it requires that one really want this degree,  plus a willingness to learn and develop the skill, find the patience, endurance and resources, whatever it takes, right down to the final submission of the thesis to the library. You may have to travel half way round the world to accomplish it or to collect essential data, find the right people to consult with. At the end of the day, it is about how you are going to shape this wonderful gift of a personal mission or calling. I’m sure you have strong ideas and ideals and have counted the cost.

Below are some questions to ask yourself at the practical level once you have isolated and written you mission statement. We suggest sharing it with at least one other friend or spouse who can bear the burden with you and encourage you to stay the course. Keep revising and updating it periodically to stay fresh. If you are grinding down (trapped in fear, doubt and inaction) with a loss of focus or energy at the moment, this might be the most critical strategy to get out of your slump.

  1. Who is going to support me in this vision—my alliances, mentoring and consulting help?
  2. What training or skills do I need to develop to carry out the mission?
  3. How do I frame the costs, the time line, the sacrifices that will be necessary?
  4. What are my first five steps towards its implementation?
  5. How will I test/measure whether I am making progress and when I am finished (e.g. the PhD)?
  6. What are the biblical roots of my vision? This will often determine its depth and longevity, offering spiritual and moral (transcendent) support to your mission.
  7. Where am I in my quest at the moment? How far have I come? How much more of the mountain do I have to tunnel through?
  8. How will I maintain focus, fight off distractions and deal with the barriers to this quest? The discipline of execution is critical. Complexity, confusion and fear precedes simplicity, clarity and courage–leading to fruitful productivity.

Many good wishes in fashioning your personal mission statement; you will find it quite worth the time and effort, even if it requires a week or more of your life. Perhaps you can chat with  a colleague about this over coffee. Ask your supervisor or lab mates if they have ever written a mission statement. What difference did it make?

You will realize the vision (not the idle wish) of your heart, for you will always gravitate toward that which you secretly most love. Into your hands will be placed the exact results of your own thoughts. Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your vision, your ideal. You will become as small as your controlling desire, as great as your dominant aspiration. In all human affairs there are efforts, and there are results, and the strength of the effort is the measure of the result. Chance is not. Gifts, powers, material, intellectual and spiritual possessions are the fruits of effort; they are thoughts completed, objects accomplished, visions realized. The Vision that you glorify in your mind, the ideal that you enthrone in your heart—this you will build your life by, this will you become. ~James Allen

All Masters and PhD grads will be looked to for leadership, for creative ideas and solutions to problems. Employers are looking for people of discipline, passion and vision. Perhaps you will find some good tips on Leadership Freak Blog with Dan Rockwell which a colleague of mine pointed out. Good to have someone push our buttons in the right way. If you can find a life coach or a mentor to keep you growing in the right direction, filling out the intellectual and personal virtues, that would be super.

Power and Insight for the Journey Ahead,

Gord Carkner

A Lost Boy from Sudan Tells His Story

It is your desire for God and your capacity to reach for more of God than you have right now that is the deepest essence of who you are. There is a place within each one of us that is spiritual in nature, the place where God’s Spirit witnesses with our spirit about our truest identity. Here God’s Spirit dwells with our spirit, and here our truest desires make themselves known. From this place we cry to God for deeper union with him and with others.

~Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms.

Union with God can only be secured by love. And subjection to him can only be grounded in humility. And humility can only be the result of genuinely knowing and believing the truth—that is, the truth of God and of myself. I must continually discover how vital it is to lay hold of God and to hold him fast, for it is from him that I derive my being and without whom I am nothing.

~Bernard de Clairvaux, The Love of God.


Words Attributed to Martyred Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Ten Thoughts on Developing Your Living Curve

Set for yourself a high purpose.

Work on your self-confidence through quality work.

Use genuine enthusiasm to build a servanthood posture.

Build your own expertise through an ongoing commitment to excellence and willingness to learn more.

Prepare thoroughly for each thing you present. Be ready for the task at hand.

Know the importance of self-reliance. Own your responsibility.

Shape a strong image that is consistent and true. Go deep.

Prioritize sound character, living by principles which lead to respect and integrity.

Build self-discipline and the ability to persevere.

Commit to excelling yourself in your work performance.

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